Access to historical information helps in understanding how we got to where we are today and knowing where we want to go tomorrow.
Two new collections add to online trove of Prairies history
Digitized records on grain elevators, early issues of St. Albert Gazette now available for all to discover.
By BEV BETKOWSKI
(Edmonton) Western Canadian grain elevator lists and historical St. Albert newspapers are two of the latest online additions to the University of Alberta Libraries’ website Peel’s Prairie Provinces, which helps tell the story of the Prairies.
Researchers and everyday history buffs alike have free and open access to millions of pages of the digitized collections.
The two new collections enhance U of A Libraries’ ongoing commitment to working with community partners to preserve and share Western Canada’s history by putting historical resources online for everyone to explore, said Geoff Harder, associate university librarian.
“It falls to the University of Alberta and memory institutions like us to ensure that Western Canada’s story is available for future generations. Identifying and digitizing collections is a good way of moving us closer to that goal,” Harder said. “The U of A’s first president, Henry Marshall Tory, spoke of ‘uplifting the whole people,’ and one way we support that ambition is by working with our communities and helping them know where they came from. Access to historical information helps in understanding how we got to where we are today and knowing where we want to go tomorrow.”
The Peel’s Prairie Provinces website focuses on material related to Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. “We collect things that fall within that geographic boundary, and it is a wealth of information,” yielding insights into everything from urban development and political and social trends to ethnic views and even the history of marketing across the Prairies, Harder said.
Peel’s Prairie Provinces contains more than 8,400 digitized titles and over 67,000 newspaper issues dating back to 1871, and is already home to several eclectic collections, including an assortment of 16,000 old-time prairie-themed postcards, Henderson’s community directories, Edmonton Folk Music Festival programs, maps and a letter written by Louis Riel.
The newest additions to the collection continue to add to the cultural record of the Prairies in their own ways.
Thanks to a partnership with the Canadian Grain Commission, more than 80 years’ worth of historical information on grain elevators in Canada is now available online. Records kept by the commission span 1912 to 1998 and list licensed grain elevators, their locations across Canada and their storage capacity.
At one time, the tall wooden sentinels dotted farming communities across the Prairies and were instrumental in the grain trade.
“The newly available online data will help anyone exploring diverse but related fields like transportation, railway history and prairie agricultural economics,” said Peggy Sue Ewanyshyn, digitization librarian.
St. Albert Gazette: Preserving a community’s culture
Historical issues of the St. Albert Gazette, a community newspaper dating back to 1949 under various names, joins an assortment of other military, francophone and U of A newspapers already digitized for the Peel’s Prairie Provinces website.
The project, the result of a partnership of U of A Libraries, the St. Albert Public Library and other cultural organizations in that community including the St. Albert Gazette publisher, ensures that the rich store of information found in fragile old print issues of the newspaper is now preserved for museum archivists, researchers looking for data, and people piecing together their genealogical histories.
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“We hear from users all the time about family discoveries and other areas of interest. They are very appreciative of how easy it is to find the information they need through the full-text digitized collections,” Ewanyshyn said.
Other treasures in the digitized collections include an atlas of Alberta railways, the Sir Samuel Steele collection, Alberta homestead records and 80,000 Canadian historical books.
Additional community projects underway from U of A Libraries include digitizing print issues of the Chauvin Chronicle, a former weekly newspaper in Alberta, and scanning copies of the Western Home Monthly, a popular Canadian household magazine that was published from 1899 to 1932.
U of A Libraries’ continuing work with the community benefits everyone, Ewanyshyn noted.
“These partnerships help users connect the past with their own lives and interests. Many communities face budget shortfalls or lack expertise in these areas, so they appreciate the support that UAL can offer—and they then build community spirit around such initiatives. In turn, these partnerships help new users discover the collections, and their enthusiasm for the open availability of the work is gratifying and contagious.”